facial recognition, surveillance, privacy, clearview ai

Clearview AI CEO: Settlement could be a template for others, won’t materially change business

The founder and CEO of facial recognition company Clearview AI said that last week’s landmark settlement that reins in use of its technology “doesn’t change anything that we’re doing on a material level” and could be a template for settling other lawsuits the company faces.

“We're very happy to reach a settlement and then move on,” Hoan Ton-That, the company’s chief executive, said in an interview with Click Here, The Record's podcast unit. He said the settlement could “perhaps” be a model for how other lawsuits could be handled, adding that it was up to lawyers to work out those kinds of details.

The settlement with the ACLU and several other plaintiffs would ban the biometrics company from selling its huge database of faceprints to private business or individuals anywhere in the U.S. It would also  prohibit sales to government agencies, including law enforcement, in the state of Illinois for five years. Clearview AI can continue to sell to government clients elsewhere. The agreement still requires approval from an Illinois state judge.

Privacy and security advocates have been crying foul over Clearview AI’s collection practices for years, saying that the company scrapes publicly available web pages — like social media profiles and photo-sharing accounts — for data to feed its algorithms without bothering to ask for permission or consent. There are also concerns about racial biases within the algorithms. Governments in Canada, Australia and elsewhere have sought to limit its use and have leveled fines against the company.

Illinois' Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) was enacted in 2008 and remains "the toughest law for biometrics that's out there,” Ton-That said. It allows for a "private right of action," meaning that anyone whose privacy is violated under the law can seek damages in court.

Ton-That said that fears about wide exposure of the faceprint database are overblown.

"With this database, we're only allowing access to law enforcement agencies at this time and so it is compliant with BIPA," Ton-That said. "We're very happy to reach a settlement and then move on and we think that there's other great applications of this technology that we'll be able to show over time.”

In addition to the case in the Illinois state court, Clearview AI also faces a consolidated federal suit from multiple plaintiffs.

Ton-That’s comments about the Illinois agreement come amid recent moves on Capitol Hill to close a loophole that allows intelligence and law enforcement agencies to use information like the kind Clearview collects without a court order. Under the Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act, legislation proposed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), government agencies would have to talk to a judge before getting access to data from a company like Clearview AI or from a data broker.

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Dina Temple-Raston

Dina Temple-Raston

is the Host and Managing Editor of the Click Here podcast as well as a senior correspondent at Recorded Future News. She previously served on NPR’s Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology, and social justice and hosted and created the award-winning Audible Podcast “What Were You Thinking.”

Sean Powers

Sean Powers

is a Senior Supervising Producer for the Click Here podcast. He came to the Recorded Future News from the Scripps Washington Bureau, where he was the lead producer of "Verified," an investigative podcast. Previously, he was in charge of podcasting at Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta, where he helped launch and produced about a dozen shows.